Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Death and Burial of Jamaica,s Middle Class

The on going debate regarding the existence of a middle class in Jamaica should be taken very seriously since it has implications for all of us. The definition for middle class varies from country to country because differences in purchasing power between countries and currencies make it difficult to come up with a common definition for what makes someone middle class. For example, it takes $115 Jamaican dollars to purchase $1US. Recently, I had to fill a prescription at the local pharmacy. When I handed the pharmacist the prescription she went on her computer to check the cost of the items. There were five items. I told her I would not be buying the nasal spray. In a few minutes time she returned to inform that the cost for the first three items was $5,100, the cost for the fourth item alone was just over $5,000. It was a humbling and embarrassing moment. Here I am, a college educated government worker and I was unable to fill my prescription. The situation has been made worst because of the five years wage freeze government workers have had to endure. One can only imagine what other Jamaicans are experiencing. What about that pensioner or the single mother who has three children? I have heard of cases where people have had to make a decision to skip one meal daily simply because they cannot afford to eat three meals per day. There was a time when all government workers, teachers, nurses, firemen, police etc. where clearly middle class Jamaicans, however, this is not so anymore.
According to a study by the American Counselling Association and the Association of Adventist Family Life Professional Dr Alanzo Smith, 1.1 million Jamaicans are living below the poverty line. The reasons given by Dr. Smith include the breakdown of the family unit, lack of education and “economics.” Jamaica's population is just under 3 million so do the Math.
One has to pray that one does not get sick in the middle of the month since by that time one's salary would have been depleted. Many of us have had to be turning to our savings if one existence to supplement one's salary. No wonder a recent study commissioned by the Center for Leadership and Governance at University of the West Indies (UWI) revealed that 50 per cent of all Jamaicans between 14-25 years would give up their citizenship for a better economic future. This is very troubling also because a country cannot have sustainable development if the youth population does not see a future.
Housing, specifically affordable housing is another indicator of whether a middle class exists in a society. Approximately, a third of all Jamaicans are living as squatters. The average working class family is unable to purchase a home. As a result many Jamaicans move onto government owned lands and construct homes in a desperate bid to have shelter. This cannot be sustained, however, what choice do they have?
Having said so, is there a middle class in Jamaica?